Though they/ve long been treated like the red-headed stepchildren of the salmon world, chum salmon are starting to gain a pretty dedicated following these days. When you take a closer look, it’s easy to see why – chums are plentiful and can sometimes top 20 pounds; they bite great and are absolutely tenacious when hooked.
The only real downside to them is they are not as tasty as kings, reds and silvers. But that’s really not a problem — just keep a couple reds for the freezer and then have a ball catching and releasing chums all day long!
Chum salmon are widely distributed throughout Alaska and they can be found in freshwater streams from early June to as late as mid-October, depending on the area. Generally speaking however, the further north you go, the later the run and vise-versa as you head south.
The biggest key to finding chums is to remember that they are lazy. Most of the time you’ll find them lounging in the soft water along the river’s margins and well out of the main current. They also love gently-moving flats below riffles that are 3 to 7 feet deep, the mouths of tributary streams and slow, deep pools.
Since chums usually hold towards the edges of a river, they’re often easy marks for bank anglers — though boaters can catch plenty of them as well.
From shore, there’s probably nothing more effective for chums than a 3/8-ounce hot pink, black or purple marabou jig fished under an adjustable slip float. For some reason, doggies absolutely go crazy for this rig. Set your jig to run 1 to 3 feet off the bottom and allow it to drift with the current, mending the line whenever necessary to avoid unnatural drag. Keep an eye on your float to make sure that it is not leaning up or downstream. If it’s not floating perfectly straight up and down, you’re jig could be dragging the bottom or you may have a bow in the line that’s causing too much drag.
Spinners and spoons can also be extremely effective on chums. Throw hot pink size No. 3 or 4 Blue Fox Super Vibrax spinners with silver blades or silver body/pink inlay Pixee spoons through slow-moving flats and you’ll be in chum city. Keep the hardware slowly moving just off the bottom and make sure you’ve got a good grip on your stick. The hits are often fierce when fishing this way!
Since most people release chum, it’s not a bad idea to remove the stock trebles from your lures and switch them out with single barbless siwash hooks. With singles, you’ll lose fewer lures to snags and they’re much easer to remove from fish.
You can also catch plenty of chum on fly gear and the real beauty of the sport is that you don’t need to match any hatch. Chums will routinely attack big bright flies and patterns like black or pink Bunny Leeches are about all you’ll need to be successful. Fish these patterns “on the swing” with sinking line and you’re in business.
Chum have a knack for busting rods and burning up reels, so you’ll want to use a quality outfit when chasing them.
When fishing with jigs and floats, a 10.5-foot rod is a good choice as the length will help you mend the line. You can go with a spinning or casting reel here, just be sure it has a quality drag! For float fishing, braided line is superior to mono as it floats higher and is easier to mend.
Use an 8 ½ – to 9 ½ – foot rod with a fairly fast action and a lot of backbone for tossing spoons and spinners. Baitcasting outfits are preferable for this method because they allow you to easily play out line to extend your drift, but spinning gear will suffice. Either way, spool up with nothing lighter than 12-pound mono.
For backtrolling, you need a rod that has a soft tip so that the fish can yank down on it without feeling a lot of resistance, but it must also be stout through the lower two-thirds of its length. Levelwind reels are the only way to go here and you can fill them with 17- to 25-pound mono or 50-pound braid (make sure to use a mono or fluorocarbon leader when using braided line).
If you’re looking to hook up on fly gear, go with a 9-weight rod and a quality reel with a strong drag. Also, it pays to have an assortment of lines on hand to match river conditions. On large waters, shooting heads are necessary to get flies near the bottom, while you can get away with sink tips and even floating lines on smaller creeks and streams. Use a 3- to 6-foot section of 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon for your leader and you’re ready to go.